Day Fifty-Six: "Twister" from Even Worse
Hip hop has been good to Al, and Al has been good to Hip hop. Al hasn’t recorded a lot of rap songs but some of Al’s biggest, most iconic and career-defining hits have rap parodies. Think “Amish Paradise”, “All About the Pentiums” and “White and Nerdy.” Al has historically treated Hip hop the way he treats everything else: with care, caution, meticulousness and an intuitive deconstructionist’s genius for taking songs apart and putting them back together again in new and revelatory ways.
Al’s parodies have a lot of commonalities with hip hop. Like many hip hop songs, Al’s parodies begin with another song. Only instead of taking another song and using it as the foundation for a new track for a rapper to rhyme over, Al’s band faithfully recreates the sonic elements of the song they’re parodying and Al will write and sing parody lyrics. Al’s pastiches are similarly rooted in other songs and other artists, albeit in a more abstract and less concrete fashion.
Al would go Hip Hop in a big way but he began small, with “Twister”, a Beastie Boys pastiche that’s so slight and brief that it barely qualifies as a song. Like Al’s George Of the Jungle theme song cover, “Twister” barely passes the one minute mark. It feels almost more like a skit than a proper song, but in form and content, it’s a fake commercial for a real product. Commercialism and consumerism are pervasive themes in Al’s work, and on this song he goes from singing about commercialism to rapping an actual faux-commercial.
“Twister” painstakingly recreates the minimalist electronic whine and tag-team nasal vocal harmonizing of License To Ill-era Beastie Boys, its snotty, irreverent, punk-rock take on over-the-top macho aggression. Of course by the time Even Worse was released Beastie Boys were already deep into their evolution from ironic party bros to funky bohemians testing the outer limits of sampling.
So Al was essentially paying tribute to a version of the Beastie Boys that didn’t really exist anymore. As their name none too subtly conveys, the trio of Adam Yauch, Adam Horowitz and Mike D reveled in playing the role of the snotty bad boy. They were rap Dennis the Menaces perpetually sneering at the glowering Mr. Wilsons of the world.
There’s something unmistakably retro about Beastie Boys. They aren’t just constantly referencing the pop culture of the distant past: they had a real Bowery Boys, Marx Brothers, Martin & Lewis vibe to them as well. Al imagines the Beasties not just as grown men unusually in touch with their inner children but as raucous pitchman for a child’s board game that provides adults an opportunity to brush their bodies together in a half-innocent, half-naughty kind of way.
As always, Al’s attention to details is extraordinary. The Beastie Boys were brilliant at making three complementary voices sound like one. On “Twister”, Al accomplishes an antithetical trick, using the studio to make his own singular voice sound like three rappers. Sixty three seconds doesn’t allow much time for jokes. Accordingly, the humor in “Twister” is conceptual in nature.
One of the underlying themes of Al’s work is that despite all the pretension and attitude and irreverence and posturing, in our culture, art and entertainment are commerce, they’re business, they’re commercial pursuits overwhelmingly devoted to making a buck by separating saps from their money. “Twister” is one of the purest, if most succinct representation of this theme. In Al’s warped re-telling, Beastie Boys are evangelizing on behalf of your right to party or selling attitude and irreverence: nope, they’re straight-up salesmen sacrificing their credibility to school all the home boys and home girls know about Milton Bradley’s zeitgeist-capturing game sensation.
“Twister” began Al’s fruitful flirtation with Hip Hop on an almost perversely modest, brief note but even when he was merely cautiously dipping a toe into uncharted waters, Al knew what he was doing, and treated Hip Hop not as a passing fad (like, say, the board game Twister) but rather as an art form that he respected enough to take the time to really study and understand in order to get it right.
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